Peter (Robocop) Weller stars in this neglected classic as a well-to-do New Yorker whose wife and kid is out of town. All alone in his luxurious brownstone, Weller hangs out and tries to get a lot of work done for an upcoming business merger, but since there is a ginormous rat lurking about, it makes things extremely difficult. The rat (which is about the size of a dog) gets in his pantry and eats all his food, leaps out of the toilet, and eventually eats Weller’s cat. He tries traps, poison, and exterminators but nothing deters the rat from harassing Pete. When Weller finds the rat’s litter and tosses them down a sewer grate, the bitch goes NUTS and really starts to turn the screws to poor Peter. When he finds the king-sized rodent in bed with him, Weller REALLY flips out. He stops showing up at the office and makes hunting the varmint his full time job. In the end, Weller dons cleats, hockey pads, and a miner’s helmet and armed with a baseball bat filled with nails and serrated steel, sets out to kill the rat once and for all.
It’s Robocop vs. a Giant Rat. How can you not dig that?
What makes Of Unknown Origin so great is that director George P. (Rambo) Cosmatos really gets inside the main character’s psyche and makes the cat and mouse… err, rat games personal. I mean imagine if Roman Polanski had directed Willard; that will give you some idea of what to expect from this movie. (In fact, Cosmatos actually manages to Out-Polanski Polanski in some scenes.) Cosmatos also likes to put the camera REAL CLOSE to the rat. We get to see the beast’s teeth, tail, paws, and filthy pelt in nauseating detail, which is hella gross even if you don’t have a fear of rats. The man also knows how to film one great rat-in-the-birthday-cake scene too.
Weller is excellent and his slow descent into madness is at all times believable and harrowing. 75% of the flick is just Weller going toe-to-toe with the rat and we’re rooting for him to get that varmint every step of the way. As somebody who had a sizable mouse problem this winter, I can wholly sympathize with Robocop’s plight. Since this is Robocop before he got put in the metal suit, he can’t blow the rat away with his 9mm hand cannon. He’s got to WORK to kill that sucker.
Shannon Tweed, who would later go onto become Queen of the Erotic Thrillers, made her film debut with this flick and does a good job with her smallish role. One of the great joys of the movie comes during the opening credits when we read the words: “Introducing Shannon Tweed”, then almost immediately, we her naked in the shower. Man, now that’s how you introduce somebody!
The reason why I watch horror movies is to be scared. Very rarely do I ever get scared though. Of Unknown Origin didn’t necessarily “scare” me, but it definitely got under my skin and made me shout “God damn!”, “Shit!”, “Fuck!”, and “Hell no!” out loud. Another reason I watch horror movies to get grossed out and while Of Unknown Origin didn’t make me want to puke or anything, I did find myself shuddering in disgust at the various close-ups of the slimy rodent. Of Unknown Origin may not be considered a classic by many, but if it can make a jaded horror buff like me squirm in his seat multiple times, it deserves the Four Star treatment.
Weller and Cosmatos re-teamed six years later for Leviathan.